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BP Spill: Ripples

Rising price of oysters takes toll on po-boy

Adriene Hill Jun 22, 2010
BP Spill: Ripples

Rising price of oysters takes toll on po-boy

Adriene Hill Jun 22, 2010


Bill Radke: One of the less-serious casualties of the Gulf oil spill may be the affordable oyster po-boy. This is a famous New Orleans sandwich — fried oysters on Louisiana french bread with lettuce, tomatoes and mayonnaise. And hot sauce. From the Marketplace Sustainability desk, Adriene Hill reports the spill has depleted the oyster supply and the po-boy is becoming a luxury item.

Adriene Hill: Lovie Barattini is standing in a long line at Zimmer’s, a neighborhood seafood place in New Orleans. She loves oysters, loves po-boys, and has been paying up since the oil spill.

Lovie Barattini: I went as high as $15 the other day.

Hill: Would you go higher?

Barattini: No, that’s it. That’s enough.

She expects the sandwich will soon be out of her price range.

Barattini: It’s bad, you know. What are you going to do?

Hill: Eat ’em while you can I guess.

Barattini: That’s right. That’s what I’m doing. I had oysters Monday, I’m having them again today.

There are lots of stories about the history of the po-boy sandwich, but according to the city’s Po-Boy Preservation Festival, the food got its start during a transit workers strike in 1929. A local restaurant offered to feed striking workers and the poor boy or po-boy sandwich was born. But now the oyster version is movin’ on up.

Sharlene Zimmer: It’s no longer a po-boy, that’s true. It’s a rich boy now.

That’s Sharlene Zimmer. She owns Zimmers Seafood. The price of the fresh oysters she uses for her sandwiches jumped from $37 to $54 a gallon. She’s hiked her po-boy price from $8.95 to $10.95, and says another increase is on the way.

Zimmer: People are not happy at all about that.

Hill: Do you think they’ll still eat them?

Zimmer: Yeah, I think so. But I noticed people are buying less oyster po-boys and more shrimp and roast beef and ham and cheese and that kind of stuff now.

At Charlie’s Seafood, another neighborhood restaurant, owner Frank Brigsten pulled the oyster po-boy off his menu. For a while, he’d sell one if a customer asked for about $18. But not anymore.

Frank Brigsten: I just couldn’t justify the higher prices on our menu in a restaurant that is supposed to be inexpensive and casual.

Not all oyster po-boys in New Orleans have gotten too big for their name. Some of them are made from oysters harvested and frozen before the oil spill.

I’m Adriene Hill for Marketplace.

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